SO CLOSE: RYAN BLANEY JUST MISSES ON FINAL SPOT IN ROUND OF 8

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Coming into the Hollywood Casino 400 — the Round of 12 finale at Kansas Speedway — Ryan Blaney had a bit of an uphill climb for him to advance in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The 24-year-old sat 22 points outside the final transfer spot at the start of Sunday’s action. He would need a big day to make it to the Round of 8.

He did have a big points day, earning 47 points — including 17 stage points — as he finished seventh in the race. However, it was not enough to move him into the next playoff round as he sat six points on the outside.

As the race unfolded — and thanks to the stage points — Blaney was above the cutline deep into the final stage. A scrape with the wall on Lap 204 while running third as he ran along the top line was a minor setback that proved costly as he lost a few spots over the final run and fellow playoff drivers Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch made up ground.

Those small moves — his scrape and the SHR drivers’ gains — were enough to push Blaney back below the cutline.

“I messed up and cost us a shot,” Blaney said afterward. “The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”

Blaney has a history of strong runs at Kansas, and now has five top-seven finishes in eight career starts at the 1.5-mile track. That said, the young Team Penske star didn’t think he had the best car on the track before the contact with the wall.

“Obviously, it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence,” Blaney said. “It is all my fault. Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed the 9 (Chase Elliott, race winner) or 4 (Kevin Harvick, led 76 laps) had. The 9 was super fast.”

Blaney’s drive for stage points was apparent early as he shot right up to second from his qualifying spot of fourth on the opening lap. He took two tires on a pit stop under caution on Lap 62 to try to nab a stage win. He led eight laps in Stage 1 but was unable to hold off the four tires of teammate Joey Logano and he settled for third in that stage. He added a second-place finish in Stage 2 to contribute to his points total.

Despite not going as far in the playoffs in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford as he did in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford last season, Blaney still saw an uptick in his numbers with a chance to add to them with four races to go. His top fives (seven), top 10s (15), laps led (617) and average finish (14.4) are all career bests.

The day as a whole was a tough blow for Team Penske’s hopes of capturing a championship. Brad Keselowski, who won three races in a row in September, was eliminated from the playoffs following the Kansas race as well. Only Logano remains in the title hunt for the organization.

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